Tag Archives: Colorado State Forest Service

Hickenlooper signs bills to pay Lower North Fork Fire victims

Hickenlooper signs bills to pay Lower North Fork Fire victims

http://kdvr.com/2012/06/04/gov-to-sign-bills-to-pay-lower-north-fire-fire-victims/

DENVER — Governor John Hickenlooper signed two bills into law Monday that will make it easier for victims of the Lower North Fork Fire to get compensation from the state.

Several of the fire victims attended the bill signing at the Capitol and thanked lawmakers for responding so quickly.

“Often the wheels of government move very slowly,” said Tom Scanlan, whose home was damaged in the fire. “And this happened remarkably fast.”

A controlled burn set by the Colorado State Forest Service was responsible for starting the wildfire in Jefferson County in March that killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes.

In the past there has been a maximum liability for the state of $600,000.

“This was an activity that was sanctioned by the state, it was prescribed by the state, and there should be some responsibility by the state,” Hickenlooper said.

Sam Lucas, whose parents were killed in the fire, is hopeful that the process will pay dividends.

“We do look forward to moving forward in the process, being able to submit our claim to the claim board,” Lucas said.

Scott Appel, who lost his wife, is also hopeful.

”We’re all looking forward to a process that hopefully will be fair and quick so we can all start to move forward with our lives,” Appel said.

But all the victims, each of whom received one of the pens Hickenlooper used to sign the bill into law, left the Capitol Monday knowing that there’s no guarantee they’ll receive any redress from the state.

“This is a promise that the state is going to look at whether or not they’re going to help us, not a promise that they are going to help us,” Scanlan said. “And so there’s still a long road to go here.”




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March 26th 2012 – The Day My Life Changed

March 26th 2012 – The Day My Life Changed

The wind was relentless as I took a break from work in my home office to drive “down the hill” to Littleton and have some Chinese food for lunch around 1:00. On the way back home I noticed smoke in the distance high in the foothills that appeared to be was close to where I lived, but it is hard to tell exactly from down below.

As I drove up Deer Creek Canyon I caught glimpses the smoke plume growing higher, each time hoping it was not close to where I lived.  No such luck.  As I turned up High Grade Road it was clear that the smoke was in the vicinity of my home.  Anxiously I turned up S. Kuehster Road and drove directly to the Lamb School House where I could see it was the controlled burn my neighbors and I had watched with great  concern the past days.  I remembered getting a call from a neighbor the day the burn was started by the Colorado State Forest Service.  She was concerned that she could see a large smoke plume from Denver where she worked and was concerned about her house.  There was no notification of the burn for those of us on S. Kuehster Road.  One neighbor did call and was instead told about the controlled burn taking place the same day in Ken Caryl, but not even an acknowledgement of the Lower North Fork Burn, as we now know it.

I was worried because the wind was howling at that time and it was hard to imagine that this was a good thing, but I had no idea the horror that lay ahead for me and my neighbors.

When I returned home I turned on the Fire Scanner.  I then called two of my neighbors to compare notes on what they were hearing and seeing since I did not have a direct view of the fire.  What we heard on the scanner could best be described as chaos.  We quickly decided we better start packing just in case the worst happened.

It did.

My wife, Mary Ann, had been visiting her family in Denver and was on her way home.  I was able to reach her and told her to get home quickly because there was a fire.  This was around 3:30.  I remembered my insurance agent telling me that I should inventory the house with video in case of a catastrophe; of course we always put that off.  I quickly ran through the house and videoed every room in 5 minutes.  I grabbed the dog cages and was debating which car to take.  I believed there was still plenty of time.

I started packing a bag; getting out my large suitcase I use for business travel.  I remember thinking I should take comfy clothes and threw a sweatshirt into the suitcase.  For no good reason I walked out to the upper deck to get some air and saw the forest on fire just below me and the sky turning black powered by gale force winds.  I quickly closed the suitcase with just a sweatshirt in it as my wife walked in house.

I told her we need to go NOW!  A couple of neighbors called as we flew around the house in what can best be described as a panic.  I told them to get out of here and we were leaving.  This was at 5:15.

She scurried about trying to gather up all of the animals, 2 dogs, 2 cats and a bird.  I had already loaded my PC’s, personal and business records.  That was all we had time to gather.  We loaded all of the animals into her car with no regard to trying to get them into cages.  She later told me she almost wrecked the car several times as the animals would crawl under her legs as she drove.

We sped down Kuehster Road to find many of our neighbors and emergency vehicles staged at the bottom of the road.  It did not seem safe to linger, this thing was horrendous and was growing fast, so we traveled down High Grade Road.

It was infuriating to see bicyclist leisurely riding up the hill as if nothing was going on, getting in the way of everyone trying to flee or get home to save life and limb.

We checked into a hotel just at the bottom of Deer Creek.  We hustled the animals and our suitcase containing one sweatshirt into the room.  I have a live weather station that broadcasts from the house with live webcams and we quickly logged on to see what the house was like if it was still online.  It was and we could barely make out the house from the thick smoke, sometimes blocking the view entirely.  We continued to watch wondering if we would soon see it burst into flames.  Then, we were disconnected.  We knew either the power went out or the house was gone.

We tried to eat a bite at Chilis, but could not.  So we went to the pet store to get food for the animals and spent the rest of the night laying in bed with vivid visions of fire raging through the house.  We later learned most of our neighbors had the same dream and many still do to this day.

Early the next morning a neighbor knocked on our hotel room door.  We got online to check the news channels.  We gathered as we watched live raw video from a news chopper .  I was surprised to see that one of my neighbors house was still standing and quickly sent him a message with the good news.  The video then zoomed in on the house next door to my neighbor watching the video with me.  He said he had been on the phone with them as they were packing.  He then said stop the video.  Looking at it he said ” they only have 3 cars and they are all still there in the burned out structure”.  He was referring to Sam and Linda Lucas who perished in the fire.  We were unfortunately the first to know.

March 27, 2012… My new reality begins.




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Investigators – There will be No Criminal Charges in the Lower North Fork Wildfire

Investigators – There will be No Criminal Charges in the Lower North Fork Wildfire

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Investigators announced Wednesday there will be no criminal charges in the Lower North Fork wildfire.

The prescribed burn that exploded out of control, killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes happened as a result of a number of bad things happening at once, and not as a result of criminal activity.

Residents of the area that caught fire attended a town hall meeting. It was polite on the surface, but anger simmers among people… they’re mad because the reports don’t place any blame the fire.

They had a chance to voice some of their concerns, and officials expressed their sympathy. But that doesn’t mean a whole lot to the people who lost everything in the fire.

They’re still looking for answers about how the decisions were made to move forward with a prescribed burn during the driest March on record.

Four days after the prescribed burn, a warm and windy day fanned hot spots that remained, and within hours the fire had spread to 4,000 acres, destroying homes and lives as it raced through a neighborhood.




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Wildfire report is just “CYA report,” Victim’s Say

Wildfire report is just “CYA report,” Victim’s Say

http://kdvr.com/2012/04/17/wildfire-report-is-just-cya-report-victim-says/

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — After a report released Monday, some home owners who lost their homes in the Lower North Fork Fire have harsh words for the state’s investigation into what went wrong.

That fire burned more than 4,000 acres, destroyed more than two dozen homes and killed three people.

The governor’s report recommended major changes to the way controlled burns are handled.

It also recommends the state change its emergency response capabilities, and Colorado’s congressional delegation is now calling for a federal review.

Coe Meyer reflects what many homeowners are saying.

“If state workers set the fire under any circumstances, the state should be held accountable for the consequences,” says Meyers.

And he uses the term CYA to describe what he says is going on.

The report points blame at four factors, which, when combined, turned a prescribed burn into a ferocious wildfire.

“I think the report was kind of a CYA report,” said Meyer. “I’m 62 years old. I’m semi retired and this was my dream home.”

Meyer says the report misses the point.

“The operation was successful, but the patient died. That operation should have never taken place,” he says.

He says he doesn’t understand how a forestry crew missed what everyone else up there already knew, no matter what the prescribed burn forecast.

“We were told over and over again in the media, on the placards and posters up in the mountains. Common sense—the driest February and March in the history of Colorado,” Meyer says.

The governor’s panel recommended changes in prescribed burn protocols.

But Meyer and neighbors like Andy Hoover, who shot video of his own home burning, say the state started the fire that burned their homes and killed their neighbors, and the state should accept responsibility.

“If a surgeon has a perfect surgery but misses one thing technically, then there’s liability at that point for the surgeon if the patient doesn’t recover. I don’t see this being any different,” Meyer says.

“Get rid of this nonsense about limited liability to cover themselves,” says Andy Hoover. “Because their responsibility in my mind and most people’s minds is absolutely clear.”

We also talked to two state lawmakers from Jefferson County who both said the governor’s report is a good first step, but added that they are waiting for at least three other reports to be completed before drawing any conclusions about the fire.

Wednesday night there is public meeting scheduled at the Conifer Middle School at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the fire and other local issues.




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Homeowners who lost everything in wildfire want answers

Homeowners who lost everything in wildfire want answers

http://kdvr.com/2012/04/12/91133/

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Finger pointing, covering up and not accepting responsibility. That’s what some of the key homeowners, who lost everything, are saying about the Lower North Fork Fire.

They also say they want the truth to come out.

Andy Hoover is the grandson of President Herbert Hoover and a well known member of the community hit hardest by the fire last month.

Hoover says he, the family of Ann Appel and others are not happy with the way different agencies seem to be passing the blame.

The fire killed his neighbors Sam and Moaneti Lucas and Ann Appel.

“Ann was a close friend and I mean she’s gone,” Hoover says.

He’d talked to all three neighbors in their final hour as the fire moved up the hill.

Now as recordings of 911 emergency calls and radio dispatch tapes are released, Hoover says he and Ann Appel’s husband Scott are fighting to bring out the truth…about what really happened.

“No one from the fire department came up or knocked at the door so that I could hear it and I did answer the door for some people,” Hoover says.

They are questioning the veracity of some accounts leading up to the fire.

“There was poor judgment in starting that controlled burn and controlling it. I can say for the record that it was never extinguished.”

They’re also questioning accounts of what followed.

“They have been saying things that are flatly untrue. People who are making up stories to make themselves look good… I hope are going to be thoroughly embarrassed when we’re done. And there’s a lot of that going on,” Hoover says.

Hoover lost everything, including historic treasures. “My grandfather was the president of the United States. When I built that house I tried to build it so it wouldn’t burn because you can’t insure that stuff,” he says.

But now that it’s gone, he says no officials have contacted him for his account.

They find it unbelievable that state liability is limited to $600,000 dollars.

“Scott [Appel] has suffered a huge loss and it’s hit him hard and it’s going to take some time to heal that loss.”

Hoover says he believes the timelines of what happened will eventually prove that the truth lies somewhere outside of what is being said publicly right now.

A public memorial for Ann Appel will be held this Saturday at 10 a.m. at West Bowles Community Church.




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Fire on the Mountain

Fire on the Mountain

Reprinted with Permission from – http://kristenmoeller.com/2012/04/fire-on-the-mountain/

Posted on: April 5th, 2012 by Kristen Moeller

We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us – Winston Churchill
On the morning of Monday March 26th, I enjoyed the early morning quiet as I began what was to be a very busy day. I was squeezing in 12 separate conference calls so I could take the rest of the week off for my trip to California, first to speak at Inside Edge and then to join my colleagues at Rejuvenate Training to begin my spring marketing launch for my business.

How it looked at 2pm

As usual, I sat drinking my coffee on my favorite leopard chaise by the window, one 90-pound dog curled up at my side, the other at my feet. I gazed at the view, which even after 9 years, I never took for, granted. Ahhhhh. Life in our dream house, our little paradise of a retreat on the side of a mountain. How lucky we were.
I remember the first time we found it. The ad in the paper sounded to good to be true: 37 acres, 2 bedroom, 1 bath, far ranging views – and an exciting bonus – completely “off-the-grid”, meaning solar power only. After getting used to mountain living 4 years before, we craved even more adventure. As we approached the property down the mile-long, jeep-trail of a road, through groves of shimmering Aspen trees, the view began to emerge. Each step closer we took, we held our breath a little more, fully expecting to be disappointed at the end. We had so many near misses, seen homes that didn’t quite do it – that sounded good on paper yet never felt like our place. As we rounded the last corner, we glanced at each other as the sweetest profile of a house I had ever seen greeted us. Set against towering pines and perched on the side of the hill, this paradise looked out over a vast expanse of mountains ranges including Pikes Peak sixty miles to the south.
We found our forever home.

Every time I pulled in my driveway, I would take a moment to admire that sweet profile of our magical home and breathe a sigh of relief.

At 11:20am, I emailed my house sitter with directions and got ready for my next call. Sometime later, I noticed a smoke cloud over the next ridge. The Thursday before, I had seen a similar cloud and, as all mountain residents are trained to do, I searched on-line for information. Relieved to see it was a “controlled burn”, my husband and I went on a hike with our dogs before I hosted my radio show. During the intro of the show, I talked about the “adventure” of living in Colorado and the concern that most mountain residents felt during this particularly dry spring.
So this day, I searched again. My first indication that something was not right came from a post on our community forum called “PineCam”.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:15 pm Post subject: lower north fork fire
Elk Creek and North Fork Fire departments responding to a reported 1 acre fire about 6 miles down Foxton. This may be a burn over from a controlled burn in that area several days ago.

This was new – and somewhat alarming. Having lived in the mountains since 1999, I had seen other fires but fortunately had never been very close. Prior to moving to this home, the dramatic and devastating fires at Buffalo Creek, Hi-Meadow and Hayman had left their still visible scars on our vistas.
Today, the wind was whipping. At one point, large branches blew against my door. I flinched, and my dogs growled. Not a good day for a fire.
To keep informed, I checked PineCam again after my next conference call ended:
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:28 pm Post subject: Update is fire is up to about 5 acres at this point. Requesting additional resources.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:42 pm Post subject: Elk creek will be staging at the entrance to Reynolds Park, additional units being requested.

Still continuing with my day, I emailed my clients about upcoming writing days.
Checking again, my concern begins to grow. I repeatedly try to reach my husband who was on a business trip in Seattle.
At 3:20, I begin communicating with an informed poster on PineCam, Dave Cochran (to whom I am forever grateful!) who seems to have up-to-date info.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:44 pm Post subject: Fire has grown to 10 to 15 acres per fire crews. Foxton Rd. closed at 285. Also Platte River Rd. closed at Buffalo Creek (126) to Confluence.

My friend Jolene arrives to help me prepare for my trip. She thinks we should start packing boxes in case of evacuation. I don’t want to mess up my house, so instead we start making calls and trying to find out information.
At 3:53, I ask the Dave on PineCam if he can speak with me on the phone. Inquiring what I should be watching for, he said that the white smoke cloud indicated the fire was still on the ground, if it turned black or brown that meant it had moved to the trees.
At 4:21, I text my friend Shawn and ask him to come help me cut down trees, he says he is on his way.
At 4:28, I began to email Dave some photos from my vantage point to get his opinion.
At 4:31, I post a picture on Facebook. Subject: Fire way too close to my house. Prayers please.

Hit Trees

At 4:43, I send a new picture to Dave. The subject “Hit trees”. The cloud has exploded, turning a frightening brown. I see it in the middle of a message I am leaving for David’s colleague in Seattle. “Oh, fuck” is what I say and hang up.

My friend Greg arrives and begins loading my car. Somewhere in this period, David calls and I completely break down, unable to speak and hand the phone to Greg. David gives instructions to bring a few of his things.
I am now walking room-to-room staring blankly and wondering what to take. My eyes rest on an object for a moment and I make a split second decision to take it or leave it. Feeling somewhat out of body, yet not really believing I wouldn’t see my things again, I throw objects into bags. I grab my pillow, favorite blankets, a few beloved articles of clothing, my wedding album, and some jewelry.
Joleen runs to the shed to get the cat carrier and then begins to throw more pictures in a bag. I put the dogs in the car, relieved to have them ready. I keep going back in the house, thinking of “one more thing…” At one point, I grab my computer monitor but keep smashing into things as I attempt to carry it out. I drop it, thinking it’s a $300 piece of equipment – not that important. I go out to the car, and then come back for my slippers. I rack my brain for what else I should be taking. I run back in again for dog food and bowls.
Then Sean arrives and we know it’s time to go. Not because of any official warnings, but because we see flames below my house and an enormous billowing cloud of smoke which seems to block the road out.
I close the door and take what I didn’t realize would be my last look at my dream house.

The way out…

I don’t see the below posts until later:
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:00 pm Post subject: Mandatory evacuation of Kuester Rd to Conifer High School.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:04 pm Post subject: fire size is now over 100 acres, is Crowning
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:04 pm Post subject: A pic from a fellow Pinecammer prior to evac, towards the end of Kuehster Rd. (My pic I sent)
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:35 pm Post subject: Estimated evac for Pleasant Park/Kuester area is 500 homes per feedback from team.

I text David at 5:52pm to let him know I am at Staples parking lot. We recon with friends to make a plan. I don’t see the rest of these posts until I am at Jessica’s.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:49 pm Post subject: Per Elk Creek Fire, a Structure Protection Task Force is being implemented.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 5:55 pm Post subject: West Metro Fire is adding resources to this incident.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:10 pm Post subject: All fire resources are being sent to InterCanyon Fire Station 3. Also fire reporting fire has jumped Kuester Rd.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 6:38 pm Post subject: JCSO unit reporting from end of Kuester Rd that here has been burn out in that area.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:34 pm Post subject: Fire crested ridge east of Reynolds park and is running WNW
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:49 pm Post subject: Pleasant Park Rd. traffic is being restricted per JCSO. Avoid travel along this road.

Now safely at Jessica’s having handed off one dog to my friend Jessie and the cat to Greg and keeping my puppy Tigger with me, I begin following the updates.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:51 pm Post subject: Over 900 homes reported as evac per Denver Post. InterCanyon Fire reported 200 plus acres a couple hours ago, likely much larger now.
Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:14 pm Post subject: UPDATE: The Lower NorthFork Fire is now over 3,000 acres with more than 900 homes evacuated. according to CBS4 News.

While I slept, this was happening.

Posted: Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:19 pm Post subject: As of 9:00 this evening all major news outlets are reporting 900 evacuations for the Lower North Fork Fire.

I start emailing concerned friends and responding to posts on Facebook checking on my whereabouts. I let my mom and dad know I am safe. I realize I have received a text at 5:10pm with an evacuation warning. I never received a reverse 911 call. My sleep is sporadic – all night long I think of my home and those of my neighbors and pray for everyones safety.



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Gov. Hickenlooper To Tour Fire Damage

Gov. Hickenlooper To Tour Fire Damage

4,140 Acres Burned, Fire Still 15% Contained

CONIFER, Colo. — Gov. John Hickenlooper Thursday will tour the damage made by a wildfire that has charred a 6-square mile area, killed two residents and destroyed 27 homes.

 As of 7 a.m., the Lower North Fork Fire is only 15 percent contained. It has burned close to 4,100 acres.

Thursday, the firefighters’ goal was to expand containment before the arrival of higher temperatures and winds forecast for the weekend. Full containment is not expected until possibly Monday.

More than 500 firefighters and several air crews are working the fire and went back to the fire line at 7:30 a.m., said Dan Hatlestad, spokesman for the Jefferson County Incident Management Team.

“We need to get ahead of this fire today and tomorrow in anticipation of the heat and wind,” Hatlestad said. “We’re expecting to build through the balance of the week. That’s why we have so many firefighters on scene to attack this fire and suppress it before we see erratic conditions again.”

Two planes that drop fire retardant were diverted to a fire in South Dakota, but four Blackhawks from the Colorado Air National Guard were still dropping water on the blaze.

The Colorado State Forest Service said the fire started from a controlled burn last week that was meant to reduce vegetation. Instead, high wind gusts Monday blew embers across a containment line and into unburned forest, sparking the blaze.

There is still no estimate as to when families from the 900 homes evacuated because of the fire will be able to return to their homes. Hatlestad said firefighters would work on getting families back to their homes “as soon as possible” but could not give a specific timeline.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has allowed homeowners to visit homes that were damaged or destroyed by the fire. They were given about 30 minutes to tour their homes on Thursday.

A search team will continue the search for a woman missing in the fire zone. Her home was among those destroyed or damaged in the blaze. Hatlestad said the search team covered 60 acres Wednesday.

The woman has not been identified. A spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said it is not known if the woman ran from the fire or tried to take shelter in her home.

A neighbor of the couple found dead said he was unsure whether 77-year-old Sam Lamar Lucas and 76-year-old Linda M. Lucas received an automated call telling them to leave. Eddie Schneider fled after a firefighter knocked on his door.

 

Hickenlooper To Meet With Victims

Hickenlooper will meet with evacuated families and those that lost homes Thursday morning. He will also tour the burn zone by helicopter.

On Wednesday Hickenlooper suspended the use of state prescribed burns until a review of the wildfire is complete.

The ban doesn’t affect land controlled by the federal government — which accounts for more than one-third of Colorado. However, Hickenlooper urged counties and federal agencies to also consider suspending such burns for now.

Hickenlooper said he doesn’t blame some of the 900 evacuated homeowners in the mountains southwest of Denver for being angry.

“It’s horrendous,” Hickenlooper said. “This is one of the most devastating fires that we’ve had in recent history.”

Conifer resident Don Heiden, who was displaced by the fire, said he wasn’t ready to blame the government.

“Accidents happen. If there was negligence, they’ll figure it out,” said Heiden, who was watching televised aerial shots to see if his home was still standing. “To me, it’s more of an act of God.”

For years, fire agencies have used controlled burns to preempt devastating wildfires by consuming fuel. Officials credited such an operation with helping save hundreds of homes during a 2002 Colorado wildfire that did destroy 133 homes.

The fire threat in much of Colorado has grown during an unusually dry and warm March. Several counties, including Jefferson, have implemented fire restrictions affecting campfires, fireworks and smoking in fire-prone areas.

View Lower North Fork Fire in a larger map. 




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Jeffco Fire Burns 4,140 Acres, 15% Containment

Jeffco Fire Burns 4,140 Acres, 15% Containment

27 Homes Burned In Lower North Fork Fire

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — New mapping shows a fire in Jefferson County has burned 4,140 acres and destroyed 27 homes.

Officials with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office began taking people who lost their homes into the burn area to see the damage on Wednesday.

Almost all the homeowners whose homes have been destroyed have been notified. Deputies are hoping to reach the other half, said Jacki Kelley, public information officer for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

“We have had a good day,” said Jacki Kelley, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office PIO. “We have cut fire lines we have started to establish a perimeter.”

Firefighters had managed to gain 15 percent containment by Wednesday afternoon. The estimated size of the fire line that must be built to fully contain the fire is 8.5 miles long.

Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink said full containment might not come until Monday.

Kelley said three tankers were flying on Wednesday along with four helicopters. The tankers were dropping retardant to slow the fire and the helicopters will be dropping water to put the fire out.

Kelley said 4,100 gallons of retardant had been dropped on the fire. Helicopters have dropped 49,000 gallons of water on the fire.

The largest air tankers have been pulled from the fire and Fin order to respond to two fires near Custer and Keystone, South Dakota. The smaller single-engine air tanker that has been assigned to the Jefferson County fire will continue to be available.

Woman Missing, 2 People Killed

Kelley said searchers have been looking for a woman reported missing in the fire. On Wednesday, 32 searchers with six dogs started at the woman’s home and then fan out from there.

The woman has not been identified but officials said she lives within the burn zone. They have searched 60 acres around her home for any sign of her.

“We’re not certain,” said Kelley. “We’re looking beyond the home to determine if she ran from the fire. We’re also digging in the home rubble in an effort to find her remains.”

The two people who died in the fire were identified Tuesday as Sam Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76. The husband and wife were found at their burned-out home at 14409 Eagle Vista Drive, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

A neighbor of the couple, Eddie Schneider, said he doesn’t think the Lucases got the automated evacuation call because he didn’t get one either, unless it came after a firefighter came to his house and told him to leave.

Kelley said she wasn’t aware of residents’ assertions about having no warning, until the assertions were raised at a news conference Wednesday.

900 Homes Evacuated, 6,500 Homes On Standby To Evacuate

Mandatory evacuation notices went to 900 homes on Monday. Those families are still evacuated and officials said Tuesday they could be out of their homes for days.

“We have not allowed anybody who was evacuated back in other than the homeowners whose homes were damaged,” Kelley said. She said anyone who hasn’t been contacted by the sheriff’s office should be aware their home was not burned.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office also alerted an additional 6,500 homes on Tuesday to be prepared to evacuate because of the erratic nature of the fire. That pre-evacuation notice remained in place on Wednesday.

The affected homes on standby for evacuation are north of the existing evacuation area. The pre-evacuation areas include:

  • Deer Creek Mesa
  • Deer Creek Canyon Park
  • Homewood Park
  • Hilldale Pines
  • South Murphy Gulch Road
  • Watson Gulch Road
  • southeast of South Turkey Creek Road
  • White Deer Valley
  • Jennings Road

“We want those 6,500 people to be ready to go,” said Kelley.

She said officials still don’t know when current evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes.

“Depending upon how much progress we make over the next couple of days,” Kelley said. “Maybe we’ll have good news tomorrow. No promises.”

Sheriff Mink later told 7NEWS evacuees might be able to return on Friday, weather conditions permitting.

“What I don’t want to do is give false promises or false hope,” Kelley said. “We know people are anxious to go home.”

The Type 1 Incident Management Team has arrived. The official transition from the Jefferson County type 3 IMT to the type 1 IMT will take place at 6 a.m. Thursday. The type 3 IMT team will continue to work with the Type 1 team after the transition, officials said.

How The Fire Started

On Tuesday, the Colorado State Forest Service admitted to 7NEWS that the Lower North Fork Fire started as a result of a prescribed burn it was conducting late last week.

“Did the Colorado State Forest Service cause the Lower North Fork Fire?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“I think the answer to that is the embers came from within the prescribed burn that we conducted,” said Deputy State Forester Joe Duda.

He also addressed reporters at the 4 p.m. media briefing in Conifer.

“We have to look at whether anything went wrong.”

Prescribed burn group was working within working parameters for prescribed burns.

“The area where we saw the embers and the fire crossed the road we had previous patrols in that area and saw no signs of fire in the area.”

He said the Colorado Forest Service had twice the resources that were necessary on the fire.

“We started on last Wednesday and we continued the patrol through to Monday when the wildfire initiated,” he said.

“Our heartfelt sorrow goes to anybody who lost loved ones.”

Last Wednesday, the Colorado Forest Service initiated a prescribed burn on Denver Water Board property. The purpose was to reduce woody fuel from past forest restoration activity.

On Thursday, the Forest Service conducted the main burn of 35 acres.

“On Thursday, the weather conditions, the forecast, all the parameters that are necessary to operate under, looked good so we conducted the prescribed burn,” said Duda.

On Friday, the Forest Service sent crews out to complete mop up and patrol the perimeter.

Those patrols continued through the weekend and on Monday.

On Monday, a fire reignited in the prescribed-burn area.

“In an area, it’s my understanding, where we had patrolled earlier, we noticed that there was some fresh fire activity burning within the containment line,” said Duda. “As the crew moved up to take action, that fire crossed the road into the uncontained area.”

Duda said the crew was in a fire truck and requested additional help.

7NEWS asked the Colorado Forest Service how far in advance are the weather forecasts looked at and what was the weather forecast showing for this prescribed burn?

“Weather forecasts are looked at weeks, even months in advance to find just the right time to do a burn, ,” said Outreach Forester Lisa Mason. “Weather is constantly monitored weeks before the burn. In addition to looking at forecasts, a Remote Automated Weather Station was set up on the day of the burn at the site. Weather reports are given every 15 minutes. In the attachment, you will find the spot weather forecasts for the day of the prescribed burn. Also, note that there were no Red Flags warnings in effect when burning.”

State Liable Only Up To $600,000

Under state law, the Colorado Governmental Immunity Law protects the state and taxpayers from expensive liability. If the state is found to be responsible for the fire, it would only be liable to pay a maximum of $600,000 total for all victims to split. No one person could get more than $150,000.

“For anyone and any claim, for loss of life, loss of property, damage, injury, loss of use, even the cost of fighting the fire, the total amount the state would have to pay capped by law is $600,000,” said attorney Jim Chalat. “The check that would be written would be $600,000. That wouldn’t come anywhere close to paying for the damages.”

 


View Lower North Fork Fire in a larger map. (Red line: burn zone: Blue line: Mandatory evacuation. Yellow line: Pre-evacuation area..




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State Forest Service Admits Role In Jeffco Fire

State Forest Service Admits Role In Jeffco Fire

Deputy State Forester: ‘Embers Came From Prescribed Burn That We Conducted’

Marshall Zelinger, 7NEWS Content Producer/Presenter

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The Colorado State Forest Service admitted to 7NEWS that the Lower North Fork Fire started as a result of a prescribed burn it was conducting late last week.

 “Did the Colorado State Forest Service cause the Lower North Fork fire?” asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

“I think the answer to that is the embers came from within the prescribed burn that we conducted,” said Deputy State Forester Joe Duda.

The Lower North Fork Fire has scorched 4,500 acres, killed two people and destroyed 23 homes. Sam Lucas, 77, and Linda Lucas, 76, were killed, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. One other person is missing and hundreds are still evacuated from their homes.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Forest Service initiated a prescribed burn on Denver Water board property. The purpose was to reduce woody fuel from past forest restoration activity.

On Thursday, the Forest Service conducted the main burn of 35 acres.

“On Thursday, the weather conditions, the forecast, all the parameters that are necessary to operate under, looked good so we conducted the prescribed burn,” said Duda.

On Friday, the Forest Service sent crews out to complete mop up and patrol the perimeter.

Those patrols continued through the weekend and on Monday.

On Monday, a fire reignited in the prescribed burn area.

“In an area, it’s my understanding, where we had patrolled earlier, we noticed that there was some fresh fire activity burning within the containment line,” said Duda. “As the crew moved up to take action that fire crossed the road into the uncontained area.”

Duda said the crew was in a fire truck and requested additional help.

Should Prescribed Burn Have Happened

In his 7-day outlook last Thursday, meteorologist Matt Makens predicted windy conditions for Monday.

“Did you know on Thursday that it would be windy on Monday?” asked Zelinger.

“I don’t have access to the weather report. I haven’t reviewed the weather data. At this time, I would have to defer to the judgment of crew that were on site that made that call,” said Duda. “We’ll be putting together a review team that will look all the parameters that we considered in conducting the prescribed burn.”

The Forest Service will begin its own investigation and expects to have a report available in two weeks.

State Liable Only Up To $600,000

Under state law, the Colorado Governmental Immunity Law protects the state and taxpayers from expensive liability. If the state is found to be responsible for the fire, it would only be liable to pay a maximum of $600,000 total for all victims to split. No one person could get more than $150,000.

“For anyone and any claim, for loss of life, loss of property, damage, injury, loss of use, even the cost of fighting the fire, the total amount the state would have to pay capped by law is $600,000,” said attorney Jim Chalat. “The check that would be written would be $600,000. That wouldn’t come anywhere close to paying for the damages.”

Governor Responds From Mexico City

Governor John Hickenlooper is on a trade mission in Mexico City. He spoke with 7NEWS by phone about the fires, and the cost of fighting wildfires so early in the year.

“I think we’re going to have several difficult years and there’s no easy way — if we were actually to try to thin out all the forest beset by beetle kill, you’re talking not just millions of dollars, you’re talking about tens of billions of dollars, to really clean out all the forest and remove all this dry timber,” said Hickenlooper.




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1 Dead; Hundreds Evacuated In Path Of 3,000-Acre Jeffco Fire

1 Dead; Hundreds Evacuated In Path Of 3,000-Acre Jeffco Fire

CONIFER, Colo — A huge wildfire burning in the Front Range Foothills west of Denver Monday left one dead and prompted hundreds of evacuations, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said Monday night.

The sheriff’s office confirmed one death from the fire late Monday night but did not release details other than to say it was in the fire zone.

The Lower North Fork Fire started as a 5-acre fire but was estimated at more than 3,000 acres as of 9 p.m.

“All residents south of Highway 285 in the area of the fire are asked to be prepared to evacuate,” the sheriff’s office said just before 9 p.m.

“Homes have been lost in the Kuester Road area but there is no confirmation on the number of structures affected,” said Jacki Kelley, Jefferson County PIO.

Smoke and ash from the fire was falling in the Denver metro area, raising health concerns.

The first evacuations were ordered for residents in the Pleasant Park area, near Conifer, when the fire was less than 100 acres.

“We’re looking at the direction the fire is moving, which is northeast and we are making additional evacuations because of that,” Kelley said earlier in the evening.

She said more than 900 automated phone calls were sent out to residents on Monday, ordering them to evacuate.

Subdivisions that were evacuated Monday included: Oehlman Park, Conifer Meadows N. of Foxton Road and Silver Ranch Estates.

The fire was burning toward the following subdivisions Monday night: Maxwell Hill, Samson, Kuehster and Critchell, according to the sheriff’s office.

Text alerts and automated phone messages went out to Jefferson County residents in the fire’s path, telling them to evacuate.

Conifer High School was set up as the first evacuation shelter and the Mile High Chapter of the American Red Cross sent volunteers to the school. Late Monday night, the shelter had 90 evacuees and 65 dogs.

An additional evacuation center was set up at Chatfield High School, Kelley said.

A large and small animal evacuation point was set up at the Jeffco Fairgrounds. Anyone needing assistance with large animal evacuation should contact the sheriff’s office at 303-277-0211.

Late Monday night, the sheriff’s off reiterated, “Due to extreme fire conditions, entrance into affected areas to rescue animals is prohibited.”

“I was looking at maps and there’s not a lot between us and the fire,” said evacuee Erin Thatcher, who lives in Silver Ranch Estates, just off Pleasant Park Road. “We got everything, our pictures and cats — everything we could.”

The fire stated from a controlled burn conducted by the Colorado Forest Service last week that rekindled Monday afternoon in high winds, according to Kelley.

A wind gust of 69 mph was recorded at the automated weather station at Conifer High School at 2:11 p.m. Monday. Kelley said the fire was reported at 2 p.m.

The fire was crowning in trees and growing in size quickly by mid-afternoon, pushed by the high winds.

“I talked to a lady — she said she could tell it was crowning. She heard the trees popping,” said evacuee Margaret Long, Thatcher’s mother.

The fire moved so fast, firefighters focused on a defensive strategy to include structure protection as a primary objective, Kelley said.

Roads leading into the fire were blocked to all but emergency vehicles.

“The patrolman told me if I had (arrived) 10 minutes before that, obviously he hadn’t been there yet, I could have got in,” said evacuee Bill Von Vihl, who lives on South Ridge Road.

More than 100 firefighters from multiple agencies were on the fire lines Monday night with additional resources expected to arrive through the night, Kelley said.

A Type 1 Incident Management Team has been ordered. A Type 1 team has the most training and experience of any incident management team. There are 16 such teams in the United States.

The Red Cross was working with the Salvation Army to provide water and food for firefighters.

Tuesday’s fire behavior was forecast to be “erratic” with swift and shifting winds. Officials said they anticipate the fire will burn for an extended period of time.

A huge smoke plume from the fire could be seen along the Front Range from Northglenn to south of Castle Rock. The smoke was drifting across the south metro area, with smoke and ash reported by metro-area residents.

Smoke Health Advisory Issued

Wildfire Smoke Health Advisory for southern Jefferson, Douglas, western Arapahoe, and Western Elbert Counties. Moderate to locally heavy smoke from the Lower North Fork Fire in southern Jefferson County is likely to move to the northeast and east of the fire this evening and later tonight.

Smoke will continue to move into portions of the southern Denver metro area Monday night, including Highlands Ranch, the Chatfield Reservoir area, Roxborough Park, Littleton, Englewood, Centennial, Aurora, Parker, Castle Rock and other nearby areas.

Blowing dust across the Front Range region may cause coarse particulates to climb into the moderate range. Consequently, unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy indoor or outdoor exertion.

Firefighters from the North Fork and Elk Creek fire departments are fighting the fire. The U.S. Forest Service said it is sending additional personnel, according to the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office. A helicopter with a water bucket was also making drops on the fire.

The fire is burning near Platte River Road about 6 miles downstream from Foxton Road.

Foxton Road has been closed from Reynolds Ranch to Platte River Road to allow fire traffic only. Elk Creek fire units are staging at Reynolds Ranch.

Platte River Road is closed at Jefferson County Road 126.

View Jeffco Wildfires in a larger map




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